Stage 3 - Boveney Church to Little Marlow (11.05 miles)
The route mostly follows the Thames Path for the first 9.6 miles. At times the path can be narrow, so beware of speeding pushbikes. Oakley Court and Bray Studios are soon visible across the river. Next is Bray village, then through Maidenhead, and Cookham to just after Bourne End where we leave the Thames Path by turning right over a level crossing to Spade Oak. Here just opposite Old Thatch the route goes cross country through a nature reserve and around a lake to finish in the picturesque village of Little Marlow.
From the church of St Mary Magdalene at Boveney stay straight on along the Thames Path for 4.25 miles to just after Brunel’s railway bridge at Maidenhead.
Shortly after the start, through the trees to the right is a well designed modern building. This is the boathouse at Dorney Lake, a purpose built rowing lake. It was opened in 2000, is the property of Eton College, and extends parallel to the river for over two kilometres. It will be the main centre for rowing and a few other water sports during the London Olympics in 2012 Olympics. Across the river to the right is the entrance to the Windsor Racecourse Marina. Looking back down the river boats can be seen queuing for position after coming out of the lock.
In just less than a mile further along the towpath, look across the river to see Oakley Court. A magnificent Victorian, gothic, turreted house built in 1859 for Sir Richard Hall Say. The area around the building is called Water Oakley which has Roman and Iron Age connections. It was also once the site of the Saxon church of Bray parish.
According to the Oakley Court Hotel website, Richard Hall married Ellen Evans of the nearby Boveney Court in 1857, and was appointed High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1864. In 1874 the house was sold to Lord Otto Fitzgerald, MP for Kildare, then to a John Lewis Phipps and in 1900 to Sir William Avery. In 1919 the house together with 50 acres of land was purchased by Ernest Olivier for £27 k. He was an eccentric character and often entertained foreign diplomats, flying their country’s flag from the house’s flagpole during their stay. It is believed that during World War II the house was used by the French Resistance and General Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) is reputed to have stayed.
Next to Oakley Court is Down Place, a pretty 17th Century riverside mansion and once home to publicist Jacob Tonson Snr (1656 – 1736). Jacob was described as the first modern publisher, making many books available to the masses for the first time – these included Shakespeare’s finished plays. He was founder of the notorious Kit-Kat Club in the late 17th / early 18th century. The club’s original aim was to promote literature and the arts, but it later became a Whig society helping to ensure the continuance of the Royal House of Hanover. The Duke of Marlborough, Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, Sir Robert Walpole, Jonathan Swift, and William Congreve were members. The club often held meetings at Down Place.
In 1951 Hammer Film Productions made a derelict Down Place their home and built studios here the following year. They called them Bray Studios after the local town. It was here Hammer produced many of their early horror movies, including the Frankenstein and Dracula ones.
In 1965, Ernest Olivier, owner of the neighbouring Oakley Court died and the house was left uninhabited. The house proved to be an ideal setting for many productions including the Hammer ones. The last Hammer production made at Bray was “The Mummy’s Shroud” completed in October 1966. The following year the company moved filming to Elstree. However, films and TV productions continued to be made here, some using Oakley Court as the main setting. “Half a Sixpence” with Tommy Steele (1967), “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), “Alien” (1979), “The Wildcats of St Trinian’s” (1980) and ITV drama Inspector Morse were amongst some of the later ones.
In 1979 work started on converting Oakley Court into a hotel. After 2 years and at a cost of £5 million, Oakley Court Hotel opened on 7th November 1981. Since then the hotel has been enlarged with new wings being added. It also now boasts a health and fitness club, a 9-hole golf course, two tennis courts and a meeting room called the Boathouse on the banks of the Thames.
A short distance past Bray Studios is Queen’s Eyot. This is a small island which has been owned by Eton College since 1923 when it was sold to them for a meager 10 shillings (50 pence). Soon afterwards the college built an attractive clubhouse on the island to be used by the “boys” for their enjoyment. This burnt down in 1990 and the college built a new one. The beautifully landscaped island, covering an area of four acres, is still used by the “boys”, but can also be booked for special occasions such as weddings, parties or corporate functions.
As a point of interest, the words eyot, eyte, ait and ayt are all old English words meaning island, the route passes many of these on the journey up the River Thames.
Behind Queen’s Eyot hides Bray Marina which can partly be seen to the left just after passing the island. Soon after this, on the side of towpath is an iron mile post and next to it is a path (now at 2 miles into the stage). This leads away from the river past the northwest edge of Dorney Lake and on to Dorney Court – it’s just over half a mile walk. Dorney Court dates from 1440, is one of the most unique manor houses in the UK and in 2006 was a finalist in Country Life Magazine’s quest to find the nations finest manors. The house is on the way into Dorney village and has been owned by the Palmer family and their ancestors since the early 16th Century and is still the family home today. The local pub the “Palmer Arms” dating from the 15th Century is named after the family. The manor is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, so the current house must have replaced a much older one. The adjacent 12th Century church of “St James the Less” has a Norman font and Tudor tower. The Chancel and Nave both date from the 12th Century and a record of the clergy, back to the 13th Century hangs in the nave. There is much more to see as which has been preserved through the centuries. Check out the excellent church website for more information. “The Walled Garden Centre” has a tea house and a shop selling the manor’s produce. The word Dorney means “Island of Bees” and Dorney is famous for its honey which is still produced today. Apparently, this was where the first pineapple was grown in England in 1661 and was presented to King Charles II. Another old local pub “The Pineapple” is named so to commemorate the event. The manor house and church are open to the public at certain times from May to August each year.
Within a short distance is the Summerleaze Footbridge which crosses the river. It was built in 1995 as a conveyor belt to transport gravel from the digging of Dorney Lake to the Summerleaze processing plant at Bray. It doubles as a footbridge and cycle link and takes its name from the gravel company. The payment for the gravel helped finance the building of the lake and the boathouse. Next to the bridge on the opposite bank a stream called “The Cut” goes away from the Thames through Bray to join the York Stream through Maidenhead, eventually rejoining the Thames at Cookham. This was dug in c1819 and was used as a canal or relief stream. For many years “The Cut” has been unused and has deteriorated greatly. However, the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group (MWRG) was established in 2006 with the aim of restoring original waterways through Maidenhead to a navigable standard so this and other streams can be used to bring river transport back to the centre of the town.
Shortly after Summerleaze Bridge is Monkey Island. The name is thought to have derived from an earlier one “Monks Eyot” after monks who used the island. The monks were a cell of Merton Priory and had a fishery just upstream at Amerden Bank, near Bray Lock. They lived on a moated site established in 1197, on the north bank of the river. In the 14th Century the island became the property of the nearby Burnham Abbey, a house of Augustinian nuns founded in 1266. However, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century the abbey was closed. It is worth mentioning that in 1913 the remains of the abbey were bought by Lawrence Bissley who restored many of the buildings and converted the original chapter house into a chapel. In 1916 a community of Anglican Augustinian nuns moved back into the abbey and as you can see from their website the sisters of the “Society of Precious Blood” are still there today.
Up until the 17th Century the island was very susceptible to flooding, but with the Great Fire of London in 1666, Berkshire stone was brought up the river in barges from Oxford for rebuilding and on their way back they carried rubble from the burnt out buildings. Much of the rubble was dumped on islands along the Thames, raising them up and making them less vulnerable to flooding. Monkey Island was one of these dumping grounds and as a result is indebted to the fire.
Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough bought the island from Sir Francis Englefield in 1723 after seeing the property whilst attending a meeting of the Kit-Kat Club at nearby Down Place. He was a keen angler and commissioned architect Robert Morris to build a fishing lodge (now the pavilion) and fishing temple. The Lodge was built from wooden blocks made to look like stone and still survives in its original form today. On the ceiling of one of the rooms there are strange monkey paintings by French artist Andie de Clermont. Many sources claim the island gets its name from the paintings, but the story about the monks seems more feasible.
By 1840 the Pavilion had been converted into a riverside inn, reachable only by ferry from the south bank. The island became very fashionable from 1900 when Edward VII and Queen Alexandra often came here with their three children for afternoon tea on the lawn. All three would be future monarchs – George V, Edward VIII and George VI. Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934) is said to have composed his violin concerto in 1910, plus some of his other works, at his friend Francis Schuster’s house The Hut (now Long White Cloud) on the Berkshire bank adjacent to the island. In 2007 a blue plaque was unveiled to commemorate Elgar’s association with the property. Monkey Island was often frequented by HG Wells and Rebecca West during their 10 year love affair. Rebecca used the place as the setting for her first novel “Return of the Soldier”.
The footbridge was built in 1956 making the island more accessible from the south bank. Since then many additional rooms have been added, and both the original buildings have been restored and are now Grade 1 listed. The buildings are all now part of the Monkey Island Hotel. It was here in 1991 the “Birmingham Six” spent their first night of freedom in secrecy. In 2007 the island and hotel were sold by Metropolitan Hotels International to London based Greek publisher Dr Andreas Papadakis for £7.5 million. However, he died just a few months later.
To the right on passing Monkey Island are some very desirable residences with their gardens coming down to the towpath. After a short distance the towpath passes under the M4 road bridge. This was built in 1960 and carries the motorway from London over the Thames and west towards Bristol and South Wales. It is the third motorway bridge passed under on the route along the Thames Path and the last as only four motorways cross the river. The other is about another hundred miles further into our journey at Dartford.
Soon the path passes Bray Lock, built in 1854. The Thames previously flowed very swiftly in this area and until the lock was built, it was bypassed for navigation by “the Cut” (or “York Stream”). Originally the lock was only used when water levels were low. Closing the lock allowed deeper channels to form thus enabling barges to continue using the river. Behind Bray Lock Island on the other side of the river is a long narrow island called Pigeonhill Eyot. This stretches upstream from the M4 road bridge to just past the lock island. Immediately upstream from this is Headpile Eyot - again just off the opposite bank and long and narrow. Both islands are wooded and have evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic settlements. At times of drought the narrow water between both can dry up, thus joining them.
After passing Headpile Eyot the village of Bray is visible on the opposite bank. It is famous for its legendary vicar who would change his beliefs each time the leadership of the country would change hands. The old ballad “The Vicar of Bray” tells the story. The 13th Century Parish Church of St Michael dominates the village and is said to have replaced an older Saxon church at Water Oakley. An old legend tells of trouble had from demons whilst trying to rebuild the older church and why the site was moved to here. There are many interesting things to see at the church including a statue of a Sheela-na-Gig (a woman of lust). The Sheela-na-Gig was used by churches to scare men away from sex, but probably had the opposite effect. It is just inside the main door and a bit damaged. The church also has a memorial brass of 1378 to Sir John Foxley and his two wives – not both at the same time. To the south east of the churchyard is the Lych Gate and Lych Gate Cottages dating from 1448.
Bray village is a really pleasant and peaceful place with lots of history and buildings from many eras. In 2005 it won the “Small Village Award” in the Britain in Bloom competition. The Jesus Hospital alms houses of 1627, endowed by William Goddard, still serve their original purpose. This was the setting for Fred Walker’s painting “The Harbour of Refuge”. The village is unique by being home to two of the world’s top restaurants, The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn, two of only four restaurants in the UK with 3 Michelin Stars. In 2005 the Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck was awarded best restaurant in the world. The same year the nearby Michel Roux’s The Waterside Inn was ranked 19th best in the world and is one of only three others in the UK with 3 Michelin Stars. The Fat Duck also won the top award in 2010. The properties along the riverside here are very desirable and sometimes the local press refer to the upstream riverbank at Bray as “Millionaire’s Row”. There is no wonder Bray attracts many tourists and is home to a long list of celebrities.
The path continues between trees and around a large bend for over half a mile. It then widens out on reaching River Road to pass yet more desirable properties, but this time on the right and next to the towpath. After a quarter of a mile, River Road passes under Maidenhead Railway Bridge.
The railway bridge is at 4.2 miles into the stage and was built by Brunel in 1839. It carries the Paddington to Bristol railway line. The two arches, each 123ft long and only 24 feet above the river, are reputedly the longest and flattest brickwork spans in the world. They are known as "The Sounding Arches" because of the perfect echo. A walkway next to the road passes under one of the arches allowing the echo to be tested. The central pillar of the bridge sits on Guards Club Island, named after the club which sat on the opposite bank up until 1977 when it was replaced by Guards Club Park. Turner used this bridge as the setting of his 1844 painting "Rain, Steam and Speed on the GWR". In 1893 the bridge was widened to carry 4 tracks and in 2006 it was used on a royal mail stamp to celebrate the 200th year of his birth. If you visit this link to “Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide” website (sponsored by the “River Thames Society”) you will find lots more information and some wonderful photos of this magnificent bridge.
150 yards after Maidenhead Railway Bridge turn left through a gate, signed Thames Path. Follow the path to the river where it turns right past Maidenhead Rowing Club and under Maidenhead Bridge. Once under the bridge turns right away from the river and through a gate, then right along the pavement up to the bridge and right again to cross the bridge.
Up to Norman times the area around Maidenhead Bridge was a minor trading post between two Saxon burghs. However, in the mid 13th Century a wooden toll bridge was built with a wharf on the western bank of the river. The area prospered and a substantial settlement grew up next to this important crossing point of the Thames, on what was the main route from London to Bristol. The name Maidenhead is thought to have derived from this, “maiden” meaning new and “hythe” meaning wharf. Although other sources claim there was a wharf before this time owned by a local nunnery, hence “Maidens’ Wharf”. In 1400 the bridge was the scene of a three day battle where supporters of Henry VI fought those of Richard II, led by John Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury. The Earl had earlier tried to murder Henry at Windsor Castle, but failed. Soon after the battle the Earl was captured and beheaded.
Between 1772 and 1777 the wooden bridge was replaced by the current one. This beautiful balustrade bridge was authorised by an Act by Parliament in 1772, designed by Sir Robert Taylor and built of Portland Stone. Today it carries the A4, over the Thames as it journeys from London to Avonmouth, just past Bristol. The A4 is one of England’s old main roads and is sometimes referred to as the Great West Road or Bath Road. Most of the route is dual carriageway, but as it travels over the bridge it converts to a narrow lane. The toll stayed in place for over 650 years and was removed in 1903 after a legal challenge by Joseph Taylor, the same Eton man who 5 years earlier also succeeded in having the toll on Windsor Bridge removed.
Once over the bridge (now 4.5 miles into the stage) turn right on a path through a small riverside park called Bridge Gardens.
The A4 goes straight on into the centre of the Maidenhead. This is set well back from the river because of problems with flooding over the centuries. Two plaques on the foot of the bridge, next to the park, record the history of the bridge and the “flood level” of 1947. The monument just to the left of the path and facing the A4 is a horse trough. It was donated to the town in 1908 by Mrs Ada Lewis-Hill and originally sat outside the Thames Riviera Hotel on the opposite side of the A4. In the 1970s, many years after horses ceased to be a popular mode of transport, the trough was moved to the park and has stayed here since. On the opposite corner of the park, next to the river, a digital meter shows the volume of flow of water at this point.
Maidenhead was where King Charles I was allowed to say goodbye to his three younger children. The meeting took place on 16th July 1647 at the Greyhound Inn on the High Street (now the National Westminster Bank). The meeting was watched by Oliver Cromwell from an upper window and is remembered by a plaque on the building. The King was later held prisoner at Windsor Castle, tried for treason and executed (beheaded) in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London on 30th January 1649.
For a full history of the town follow the link to The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. The Maidenhead Heritage Centre lists important dates in order, or for a simplified version see Royal Berkshire History “for Kids”.
Follow the path diagonally across the park to Ray Mead Road. Turn right (with care as a building blocks the view of on-coming traffic) and after just a few yards take the path to the right, between houses and back onto the towpath. On reaching the river turn left along the towpath, passing Boulters Lock after another 0.6 miles.
It’s a shame the path next to the river is blocked by some flats, thus making the Thames Path cross this busy road twice in a short distance. However, according to a recent news article, the local council is planning to do something about this.
Upstream from Maidenhead Bridge is Bridge Eyot and just above this is Grass Eyot. Both are narrow wooded islands owned by the local council and between them is a much smaller island which seems to have no name. Behind the islands on the Taplow Bank and visible between them, especially at night because of their bright lights, are some boathouses. Around the boathouses is an industrial area which once boasted at least three mills. The first recording of a mill here was in 1194, two were recorded in 1197 and by 1304 there were references to three mills. Over the years mills would often change their uses depending on the demands of the time. They would be used for grinding corn, fulling cloth and making paper. The corn mill closed down in 1864 and Taplow Paper Mill ceased production in 2006. The paper company had their headquarters at Glen Island House (Grade 2 listed), built in 1869 for Lt. Gen. Sir Roger Palmer and described as a riverside gentleman’s residence. He was an Irish landowner; a steam launches enthusiast and a survivor from “the Charge of the Light Brigade”. Much of the land on the Taplow side of the river (to below Maidenhead Railway Bridge) is part of the Taplow Riverside Conservation Area. However soon after the closure of the paper mill the owners sold the land for over £30 million to a property company, and although in the conservation area let’s wait to see what plans are approved.
Across the road on the left is the Thames Hotel. It was opened in the 1880s and was apparently once lost by the owner in a card game. Just north of it is the Riverside Gardens and Play Area which has the added bonus of Jenner’s Riverside Café.
After passing Grass Eyot the Thames widens and the bank on the opposite side is continuous. However, this is a bit deceptive as it is part of Glen Island. The island stretches for almost a mile, from just south of here to above Boulter’s Lock Island. It was formed by the digging of the “Mill Race”, a channel to supply the paper mill at Taplow with water. Set back on the cliff above is Taplow Court, a 19th Century house and once home to the Earl & Countess of Orkney and later William Grenfell, 1st Baron Desborough and his family. In the grounds of the house is a 7th Century Anglo-Saxon burial mound, believed to be the grave of Teappa (c620 AD), a Saxon Chieftain and from whom the place takes its name. The burial mound was excavated in 1883 and its treasures are on display in the British Museum in London. Since 1988 the house and grounds have been home to SGI-UK a lay Buddhist society. It is open to the public on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays during the summer. There is also a public right of way along the drive to the old churchyard and burial mound.
The next island is the long and narrow Boulters Lock Island. Behind this sits Ray Mill Island – both are joined by a footbridge. Boulters Lock dates from 1772 and was made famous by E.J.Gregory's painting “Boulter’s Lock, Sunday Afternoon” (1882 - 1897). This area of the Thames became popular in the late 19th Century with the rich and famous, and the painting depicts a busy Sunday afternoon as many small boats full of well dressed people (especially ladies) shuffle for position as they enter the lock.
“Boulter” is derived from the word “bolter” meaning miller, and takes its name from the flour mill built on the island by the Ray Family in 1726. The island was acquired by Maidenhead Borough Council in 1950 and is now a park open to the public. At the time the mill buildings were converted to the Boulters Inn, which just recently has been converted again, this time to Boulter’s Restaurant and Bar. One notable resident who lived on the north tip of the island was reporter and broadcaster Richard Dimbleby (1913 – 1965) as commemorated by a blue plaque on the front of his house. Apparently he often came out and shouted at boats to slow down if they were travelling too fast along the river.
Soon after Boulters Lock the Thames parts company with the road. Follow the Thames Path as it veers off to the right and stays with the river on its way towards Cookham. The path passes through a wooden gate, known as a TC (or Thames Conservation) gate and past the north tip of Bolters Lock Island. Here the north part of Glen Island is now visible and after a short distance look back between both islands to see the weir. On passing the north tip of Glen Island the Mill Race Stream can be seen going off to the right.
Between 1996 and 2002 the Mill Race Stream was extended by over 7 miles to rejoin the Thames below Windsor. This was built at a cost of £110 million and through a local poll was named the Jubilee River to commemorate the golden jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Its purpose is to take overflow from the Thames and divert it, thus alleviating floods in the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton areas. The river forms a wet and green corridor, first through Taplow and Dorney, then south of Slough running alongside and parallel to the M4 motorway, before turning south to rejoin the Thames between Windsor and Datchet. The corridor acts like a park with parking areas, access points, paths, footbridges, picnic areas, woodland and lots of wildlife. It is managed by the Environment Agency and a detailed map (link to be added) of the Jubilee River can be is can be viewed by following the link – sent to me courtesy of the agency’s website.
To the left for a few hundred yards, with gardens backing onto the towpath, are some pleasant dwellings. The last of these is an imposing Edwardian mansion called Islet Park House. In 1957 Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis rented part of the mansion as a base for their small production company AP Films. Later that year it was here they made their first television production “The Adventures of Twizzle” a 52 episode children’s puppet series. Their next venture was a series called “Torchy the Battery Boy”. In 1960 the mansion came up for sale for a bargain price of £16,500. Anderson wanted to buy it and expand the company but Provis thought it was too much of a gamble. This caused friction between the two and the parted company. Anderson stayed on at Islet Park working on the pilot for AP Films next production “Four Feather Falls” but before the end of the year moved the company to larger premises at nearby Slough. Anderson’s work on puppets at Islet Park took this part of filming to a new level and made him famous worldwide. He later went on to produce more famous serials such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.
In front of Islet Park House the Thames Path crosses a footbridge. The stream going off to the left is White Brook which crosses Widbrook Common then turns south to join the York Stream through Maidenhead and flow along The Cut to rejoin the Thames by Bray Lock. This is currently the planned route of a navigable waterway through the centre of Maidenhead with yacht basins and a lock to maintain water levels.
For over the next mile, the towpath goes along an area called Cliveden Reach. Cliveden is an old English word meaning “valley by the cliffs” and this is said to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the Thames, with hanging woods of beeches and pines on the cliffs to the right and large open fields to the left. Stanley Spencer once said of it, “You can’t walk by the river at Cliveden Reach and not believe in God”. To read more and see some photos and paintings you can follow the link to the “Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide” website. Just across the river and in the distance through the trees you will get a glimpse of Cliveden House, presently leased by the Von Essen Group from the National Trust and run as luxury hotel and spa.
The first house built here was in 1666 by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He built it as a hunting lodge and a place to entertain his friends and mistresses. One such mistress, Anna Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, held his horse disguised as page while the Duke killed her husband in a duel over the woman’s honour.
Between 1696 and 1737 the house was owned by George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney and guests included King George I and Queen Caroline. From 1737 to 1751 Cliveden was home to Frederick, Prince of Wales and his family. It was leased from Anne, 2nd Countess of Orkney for £600 per year. The Prince was a music lover and enjoyed entertaining guests. It was here in 1740 where Rule Britannia was first performed. After Frederick’s death in March 1751 the house remained in the ownership of the earldom of Orkney passing on through the female line for three successive generations until 1824. It was during this time, in July 1795, when most of the house burnt down. Only two wings survived and Mary, 4th Countess of Orkney continued to use these as her home for over the next 20 years. The house came into the ownership of Sir George Warrander who rebuilt it and re-established it as a home which played host to high society. Shortly after his death in 1849 it was sold to the 3rd Duke of Sutherland for £30,000. However, in November 1849 disaster struck again and fire destroyed most of the property.
The Duke commissioned architect Charles Barry to rebuild. Barry had previously been responsible for designing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The Italianate building we see today was completed in 1851. Queen Victoria was a frequent guest and was not to be amused when the house was sold to America’s richest citizen William Waldorf Astor (later 1st Viscount Astor) in 1893. It became the family home and in 1905 he gave the property as a wedding present to his son William Waldorf Astor II and new wife Nancy (the former Nancy Langhorne). The house was to become a centre of literary and political society under the 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife. Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, King George V, Queen Mary and Rudyard Kipling were among guests entertained here. Nancy Astor is famous for being the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons on 28th November 1919. The house was the background to many 20th Century political intrigues and scandals. In the early half of the 20th Century the Astors at Cliveden were strong opponents of confrontation with the Nazi Germany. They and their supporters were known as the Cliveden Set.
The final scandal was the Profumo Affair in 1963. It all started in January 1961 when John Profumo (the British Secretary of State for War) met models Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies by the pool at Cliveden. He was one of a number of high society who were attending a dinner organised by Bill Astor. Lord Mountbatten is also said to have been present. Keller and Rice-Davies were staying at Spring Cottage in the grounds of the estate with Dr Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath of the time and a close friend of Bill Astor’s. The diners could hear the commotion of Ward’s party enjoying themselves just outside next to the pool, so went out to see what was happening. There are different stories saying how little both ladies were wearing and Profumo was introduced to Keeler. This meeting was to prove fatal as a short affair between Profumo and the nineteen year old Keeler ensued. Questioned about this in the House of Commons he lied, but later the truth came out. It also happened that Keeler had been sleeping with Eugene Ivanov, the naval attaché at the Soviet embassy. When this came to light it really upset the US and British Governments. The result being Profumo was hounded by the press and was forced to resign in June 1963. Lord Denning released the government’s official report in September 1963. The Tory government never recovered from the scandal and a month later the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan resigned on health grounds, but this was later blamed on the affair. His Foreign Secretary, Sir Alex Douglas-Hume took power. However, in 1964, a year after all was revealed, Douglas-Hume’s government was defeated by Labour led by Harold Wilson. It was the end of 13 years of Tory rule.
John Profumo went on to do charity work for over four decades in London’s East End. He stayed silent about the whole episode, even till his death in 2006 at the age of 91. He is probably the only British politician who worked hard for forgiveness and never broke the proper code of conduct by blaming things on others.
At the height of the Profumo Affair in 1963, Christine Keeler posed for a photo shoot with Lewis Moody. A photo from the shoot became famous and was later used to promote the 1989 movie “Scandal” based on the affair. In the photo she is portrayed as naked with her legs wide open sitting backwards on a chair. The chair covered most of the essential parts of her body, leaving the rest to the imagination and is possibly one of the most erotic and most remembered photos of all time.
Many of the guests at the Cliveden party seemed to get hounded by the establishment. Stephen Ward was arrested in June 1963 and put on trial for making money from prostitution. He overdosed on the last day of the trial never recovering, and never knowing the verdict. He died shortly afterward. Mandy Rice-Davies on being questioned during Ward’s trial, about having an affair with Lord Astor (after him denying this), replied with one of the most famous quotes of the 20th Century - “He would, wouldn’t he?”. Christine Keeler was imprisoned for 9 months for perjury in a different trial. She keeps a quite life now, but did appear on TV chat shows in the late 1980’s when the movie “Scandal” was first released. In 1987 she appeared with Mandy Smith on a promotional video for Brian Ferry’s hit single “Kiss and Tell”. In 2001 she released an autobiography entitled “The Truth at Last, My Story” which gives her version of the events at Cliveden. Maybe we’ll never know the whole truth, about how a young beautiful, naive girl got involved and caught up in high society, took on a bit more than she could handle and ended up coming out of it in an unlucky way by taking a government down without trying. It does say something about how hard each opposition party tries to remove the government of the day, but as with the story of Troy, it only takes a beautiful girl to remove a powerful establishment.
To see some excellent photos of Cliveden House and grounds visit Peter Goodearl’s website.
The route continues for 1.7 miles along the towpath, after Boulters Lock Island, before turning left away from the river and towards Cookham (at 6.85 miles into the stage).
It is at the point where the path leaves the river that Cliveden House is only a stones throw away at the top of the cliff on the opposite side. However, from here the house is obscured by the cliff and the trees. In pre-Norman times this was a fording point on the river and more recently there was a ferry.
On leaving the river behind the path goes through a narrow wood. To the left through the trees are fields and to our right, but difficult to see is Formosa Place, a large country house on the banks of the River Thames built in 1785 for Sir George Young, 1st Baronet. The property was passed down through generations to Sir George Young MP, 6th Baronet (born 1941) and government minister under John Major PM and now Leader of the House of Commons. The old house has now been demolished and redeveloped.
Follow the path through the wood and then adjacent to a road. After passing a gate and some buildings veer slightly left to follow an enclosed semi-circular path out onto Mill Lane and next to Mill House.
Mill House was once the site of an old mill. Through the garden flows the Mill Stream and Lulle Brook. They form a small island reached by a footbridge. On the other side of Lulle Brook is Formosa Island, the largest island on the non-tidal Thames covering an area of 50 acres. It is home to the Odney Club Sports Grounds, owned by the John Lewis Partnership.
The lane to the right leads past old cottages including Mill House and on to the very private adjacent entrances of Formosa House to the right and Formosa Court to the left – again the Court has been redeveloped and is now flats.
Turn left along Mill Lane. It is narrow, has little traffic and is rural with only the odd desirable residence appearing intermittently.
Soon to the right is a cricket ground with some peculiar mushroom shaped sculptures next to it. At the end of the lane a wall obscures the traffic coming from the right along the main road. The wall is of a house called the Old Ship. The house was once a convent and there is still a piscine in one of the ground floor rooms. It later became a pub, hence the name, and today is a private dwelling with many of the original features including four staircases are still in place.
On reaching a T-junction with the main road (A4094, Sutton Road), cross straight over (with extreme care) and turn right along the pavement and through the village.
Cookham is made up of three parts – Cookham Village, Cookham Dene and Cookham Rise. There is evidence the area has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Camlet Way, the Roman road from Silchester to St Albans, is thought to have crossed the Thames at Sashes Island. There is evidence that the Camlet Way crossed another Roman road near the railway station at Cookham. This road is thought to have run north through Maidenhead and Cookham as you can see from Alderman Richard Silver’s map of 1908.
During “Saxon Times” Cookham became a frontier settlement between Mercia and Wessex, with Mercia on the north side of the river, and Cookham in Wessex on the south side. The current village seems to have grown up around an 8th Century Saxon monastery, probably a twin house of monks and nuns. In the 9th Century King Alfred the Great (849 – 899) set up burghs (forts) all over Wessex, where his people could seek refuge from attacks by the invading Danes. One of these was an island burgh on Sashes Island. Cookham became a royal manor sometime between 965 and 975, administered by King Edgar from his palace at Old Windsor. In 997 the Witan (Saxon parliament) met at Cookham under King Ethelred the Unready.
On continuing through the village, soon to the left is the High Street with its many old houses, pubs and restaurants, and on the corner is the Stanley Spencer Gallery. This was originally built as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1846. However, it became too small for the congregation and they relocated to a new church, built at Cookham Rise. It was put up for sale and bought by Colonel Ricardo who added a new porch and converted the building to a reading and recreation room. He renamed it “The King’s Hall” and gave it to the village in Trust in 1911 as a centre for the villagers to use and with a grant to upkeep. Since 1962 the hall has been leased as a gallery to display works of Sir Stanley Spencer, the local boy who became one of this country’s greatest painters.
Sir Stanley Spencer was born on 30th June 1891 in Cookham into a large family. A blue plaque on “Fernlea Cottage” on the High Street remembers his birthplace. As a child he worshiped with his mother at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and also at the local parish church of Holy Trinity Church. His father was a music teacher and an organist. This religious upbringing would influence many of his paintings, and his home at Cookham was where he felt most happy and was the setting of much of his work. His early education was at a local school run by his sisters. He then went onto study at Maidenhead Technical College. At 17 he entered Slade School of Fine Art at University College London where he won the Composition Prize for his portrayal of “The Nativity” in 1912. With the outbreak of World War I he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving at the Beaufort Hospital in Bristol and then at Salonika in Macedonia. In August 1917 he transferred to an infantry unit. After the war he moved back to Cookham to continue his work, the main themes now being war and religion with most of the background still Cookham. Although he moved away a few times he always returned to his home town. He was knighted in 1958 and died the following year at the Canadian War Memorial Hospital in Cliveden on 14th December 1959. Much of his work is splendidly exhibited in the once old Wesleyan Chapel where he worshiped as a child, now the Stanley Spencer Gallery. His "Last Supper", painted in 1920, hangs in the Holy Trinity Church. Many of his paintings are in the Tate Britain Gallery. The Spencer Gallery website has a detailed description of a walk around the village, entitled Cookham Walk. It goes past many of the places which were settings for Spencer’s paintings and has copies of each painting next to the write up about it. There is also a longer “Stanley Spencer’s Cookham” walk on the Automobile Association website.
Just after the Stanley Spencer Gallery the road twists to the right and then to the left. At this point, to the right, is the ancient Tarry Stone, a mounting block or possibly a meteorite. Behind it on the wall a plaque recalls games played here in 1506. It seems it has been moved at least twice, as the plaque states, was returned here (its ancient site) in AD 1937. A local amateur theatre group, the “Tarrystone Players” is named after the stone.
To the right of the stone is Odney Lane which leads to the Odney Club and Formosa Island. The clubhouse was also once the local manor house, Lullebrook Manor. A manor of this name existed here since at least 1292 taking its name from the owner Walter de Lullebroc. The current one was built much later and I can’t find a lot on this beautiful building, apart from it was home to Colonel Francis Ricardo CBE, an Old Etonian and Grenadier Guard, who excelled at sports including cricket and rowing. He was a member of the exclusive Leander Rowing Club at Henley. For 11 years he was Honorary Secretary of the Naval and Military Tournament. He was appointed High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1913, and during World War I was Chief Constable of the Berkshire Police Force. Ricardo was very involved and generous to the community in Cookham. He was patron of many local regattas and donated the King’s Hall as a reading room to the village. He died suddenly on 17th June 1924 while walking with his niece Lady Bruce in the gardens of the manor. In 1927 the manor house and grounds were bought by the John Lewis Partnership and have been used by the company as a country club and training centre ever since.
On passing Cookham High Street (to our left), Sutton Road becomes Ferry Lane. Continue straight on along Ferry Lane, turning first right and then past the Tarry Stone. After just a few extra yards turn left into Church Gate.
This is a very old and important part of the village. In front is Churchgate House, a timber framed building dating from 1350 and once owned by the Cirencester Abbey. It was where the Abbot stayed when visiting, and in recent years a priest hole has been found in the house.
After just a few yards turn right through a wooden gate and follow the path across the graveyard and past the Church.
Just inside the gate, on the left is the Cookham Angel, on occasions this would appear in Stanley Spencer’s paintings. A few steps past this is a stone tablet which commemorates the painter. A Judas tree was planted next to it to commemorate the centenary of his birth. They are both approximately on the spot which gives the view of the church in his painting "The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard".
The Holy Trinity Church was built by the Normans in the early middle of the 12th Century. The tower was added sometime after 1500. It is thought that a wooden Saxon church stood here as early as the 7th Century and on occasions was replaced after being burnt down by accident or by invading Danes. Around 750 AD the first stone church was built. It was basic and consisted of only two chambers, a sanctuary and a nave, joined by an arch. After the building of the Norman church it is recorded that Holy Trinity had an Anchoress, a female hermit who dedicated her life to the service of God. This is quite unique as most hermits are male. She lived in a specially built cell with a slit cut into the wall so she could take part in Mass. Records show she was financed by Henry II with a payment of a halfpenny per day from 1171 until her death in 1181. His reason is thought to be a means of seeking forgiveness being responsible for the killing of Thomas Beckett in 1171. The site of the Anchoress’ cell is now the Lady Chapel and it is believed she is buried under the floor. The church we see today still has Saxon and Norman roots and since the 16th Century nothing has changed much apart from the odd bit of restoration. You can read the whole history of the church by visiting the Holy Trinity Church website.
The path leaves the churchyard and passes through an open area and onto the riverside at 7.9 miles into the stage.
To the right is Cookham Bridge. This narrow iron bridge, was built in 1867 replacing an earlier wooden bridge built in 1839. It has recently been repainted blue, its original colour. On the opposite bank next to the bridge is the old toll house. The toll was removed around 1947. The bridge is portrayed in Stanley Spencer’s painting “Swan Upping at Cookham” (1915 – 1919). He started it before serving in the First World War and didn’t complete it until after the war. Swan Upping is a colourful event which dates back to the 12th Century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans in open water. At this time swans were considered a banqueting delicacy. Today the ceremony is a way of conserving the swan population on the river. It takes place each year in the third week of July between Sunbury Lock and Abingdon, Her Majesty’s Swan Keeper takes to his boat together with representatives of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies in their double sculling skiffs to mark the swans and assess their health.
In 2002, for HM Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee, artist, entertainer and local resident Timmy Mallett completed a series of 50 portraits of people from Cookham entitled The Cookham Jubilee Collection. As well as ordinary locals it also included many well-known people who live in the area, such as Sir Clive Woodward, Ulrika Jonsson, Wendy Craig and Jim Rosenthal.
From the Cookham Village website you can also take a tour of the town and find out more about businesses and events in the local area (also see the Cookham Society). The BBC photos of Cookham is also worth a visit. Most of the village is designated a Conservation Area and to read more just follow the link.
On reaching the river, turn left, upstream along the towpath in the opposite direction to Cookham Bridge.
This area is called Cookham Reach and there are some desirable residences backing onto the river on the opposite bank. Follow the path past Cookham Reach Sailing Club and across open meadows along the Thames for just over a mile. The meadows to the left are called Cock Marsh and have four barrows (Bronze Age burial mounds). Most of the area is designated a “Site of Specific Scientific Interest” which is looked after by the National Trust. Just above meadows are Winter Hill and its golf course. The course, like the Odney Club, is owned by the John Lewis Partnership.
After almost a mile follow the Thames Path under the railway bridge then immediately turn left to climb up and cross the Thames to Bourne End using the footbridge attached to the side of the iron railway bridge.
The railway bridge was first constructed in 1854 out of wood by Isambard Kingdom Brunel before being demolished and rebuilt out of steel in 1895. It carries the single track branch railway from Maidenhead to Marlow via Bourne End – the footbridge was attached in 1992 (photos of the train journey). At Bourne End Station the train changes line and then reverses to Marlow. The journey from Bourne End to Marlow is locally known as the Marlow Donkey, its name coming from that of an early train (no. 522) based at Marlow. The branch line through Bourne End originally extended north to High Wycombe, but this was closed in 1970 as a consequence of “The Beeching Report”.
From the footbridge there are good views along the river and the surrounding countryside. It was on the southern stretch of the Thames from here to Marlow where Kenneth Grahame played about on the river during his childhood. He came here at the age of 4, after the death of his mother in 1864, with his two sisters and brother to live with their grandmother, at "the Mount" (now Herries School), in Cookham Dene. In later life, when an official at the Bank of England, in order to amuse his small son, Mouse, he wrote a fantasy called "The Wind in the Willows" – you can read the whole book HERE. Its scenes are based along this stretch of the Thames, with Quarry Wood on Winter Hill featuring as "the Wild Wood". The Automobile Association has produced a tasteful detailed map of an 8 mile walk around Cookham and along the riverside entitled “Riverbank Tales from the Thames at Cookham” – link to be added.
Once over the river climb back down to the Thames Path and turn left to follow it upstream along a narrow section fenced in on both sides between gardens – now at 9 miles into the route.
The route passes some pleasant dwellings, then comes out onto an open area next to the river with a level crossing to the right. Continue straight on along the Thames Path, soon crossing a footbridge over the entrance to a marina. Again the path soon becomes enclosed between houses and their small riverside gardens. This eventually leads to an opening next to the river.
Bourne End takes its name from old English, “bourne” meaning river. The river in question is the Wye which flows into the Thames 500 meters downstream from the railway bridge.
Bourne End Marina was redeveloped during 2003/4. It contains a first floor restaurant “On the Thames” (or OTT) with a balcony and views over the river.
The riverside at Bourne End is a mixture of old and modern buildings, many squeezed in between the railway and the Thames. The river is wide here and the area is very popular for rowing, sailing and motor boats. The enclosed path between the houses resembles an unmaintained lane. The open area next to the river, in summer is a popular spot with an ice-cream van and people walking or paddling in the river. At the upstream end of this open area the Thames Path continues through a kissing gate and around a large riverside meadow. There are benches in the meadow, along the path to sit and enjoy the views across the river to Winter Hill. However, a sign next to the kissing gate blatantly states “Beware of the Bull” and beside this another sign shows the “flood mark” from 1947. A week before I wrote these lines I visited this area. It was late July 2007 and the river was in flood. It was a beautiful sunny day, the huge meadow was completely under water with only the tops of the benches in view, the bull and cows were nowhere to be seen, yet the ice-cream van was still there and next to it the 1947 flood mark was still about 4 feet above that day’s water level.
Up to then the route had always continued along the towpath through the meadow, past the bull and just into the next field. There it turned right on a footpath next to the hedgerow, away from the river and over a level crossing to a lane past a sewage works and into Little Marlow. As for the bull, he always appeared very sedate, possibly due to the number of cows he has to occupy him.
Due to many complaints over the years about the bull and the smell of the sewage works, since 2008 the course follows a new route to Little Marlow. It was suggested by Phillip Emmet, owner of Wilton Farm and Emmet’s Farm Shop at Little Marlow. Like most others met on this journey around London through the years, he has been very supportive of this project and good at suggesting alternatives routes.
The route turns right just before the meadow and over a level crossing to Coldmoorholme Lane. On the right is Spade Oak Farm, now converted to numerous dwellings. Continue along the lane past a car park next to a wooded picnic area and soon past the Spade Oak Public House.
Just past the pub is “The Old Thatch” a 17th Century thatched cottage. This was once a beer house called the Rose and Crown with stabling and rooms for the night. It became a private home in the 19th Century and from 1929 to 1938 it was home to Enid Blyton, the children’s novelist well known for “The Famous Five”, “The Secret Seven” and many other books. By the 1990s the house and gardens had fallen into decay. However, the house has been restored by its current owner, garden designer Jacky Hawthorne, who has also lovingly redesigned the surrounding two acre gardens to reflect the history and peacefulness of the setting. You can see very little from the road by looking through the lychgate (it’s almost secret) but for a small fee the beautiful gardens and cottage with its small tea room are open to the public on certain days throughout the summer.
Immediately opposite the entrance to Old Thatch turn left onto a path through the trees and across a small field to a kissing gate. Go through the kissing gate and over a footbridge to enter a nature reserve. Turn right to follow a path around the edge of what was an old gravel pit and is now a lake. After three hundred yards turn right onto a path which goes away from the lake and through a wood. Be careful not to follow the main path which continues around the lake as it is only used by anglers and soon reaches a dead-end. Follow the path through the wood to cross a footbridge over a stream and then turn left along the edge of a large open field.
The nature reserve is a great place for bird watchers, especially around the lake. Also, birds of prey are often seen hovering above the large open fields to the right of the path.
Follow the path as it enters another field and continues straight on. At the far end of the field, cross over a road. There are also a few industrial buildings to the left owned by Lafarge Aggregates – a gravel extraction company. The road has no public right of way so cross straight over, and if a weekday be careful of the large trucks used to transport the gravel which is mined here.
Continue straight on along the edge of a third field, with a small stream on the right, for about 250 yards. Turn left to cross a wooden footbridge over the stream and then along an elevated path above the marshes and next to a streams. After 150 yards cross over another wooden footbridge and follow the path around to the right, through a meadow and then some trees. To the right is an attractive old house with a well manicured lawn.
Where the path comes out onto a lane turn right to Little Marlow and straight on through the village to the finish.
Thanks to Phillip Emmett’s suggestion the danger from the bull and the smell of the sewage works have been avoided. It is worth a mention that both the sewage works and the Lafarge Aggregates sites were used as locations in the making of the Dr Who story “The Ambassadors of Death” in 1970. In Norman times and the early Medieval period the area around the sewage works were used to cultivate vines, although it seems there wasn’t always a successful harvest.
From some of my photos of the path from Spade Oak to Little Marlow you may notice that my two friends (89 year old Mike Hutchings & Sue Long) and I, unsure about the route, followed a delightful young lady accompanied by two children dressed in pyjamas. It was a hot summer day and I thought nothing off it. We found it tough to keep pace with them as they seemed to be in a hurry. We last spoke to them as we entered Little Marlow on the lane from the river and I thought they must have been local. However, after taking a few photos and getting back in the car we saw them again, this time about a mile from Little Marlow and on the pavement along the main road heading towards Marlow, and still at speed. I’m still confused to this day why they had come so far and still seemed to have so far to go in such a hurry and why the children were dressed in pyjamas.
If on push bike you may choose to take the route along the river through the large meadow. If so the path continues to follow the river for about half a mile. On entering the next field immediately turn right and along a path to leave the river. After a short distance you cross the railway using a level crossing and go straight on onto a path for half a mile to Little Marlow. However, please be aware as for a few hundred yard the smell from the local sewage works on your left is not very pleasant.
The peaceful village of Little Marlow is off the beaten track and most of it designated a conservation area. It is laid out in the form of a cross, being mainly based around Church Road, running north from the church to the A4155 (Marlow Road) with two roads, Pound Lane and School Lane, going off to the west and east from the centre.
On entering the village the route passes a few cottages on the lane and come out into an area around a small green with a chain around it and a bench in the centre. On the south side is a 17th Century black and white manor farmhouse. To the right is the Old Vicarage built in 1770 and to the left is the Church of St John the Baptist. On the wall in front of the church is the small war memorial, and on the right of this are the gates to the Jacobean manor house once home of the Earl of Ronaldshay. On the Francis Firth website you can see old photos and maps and read some wonderful childhood stories of people who lived here or visited the village. One such story tells of visits to the Earl of Ronaldshay by Queen Elizabeth II and the winning England world cup soccer team in the 1960s.
The Church of St John the Baptist is of Norman origin and originally built in the late 12th Century. It was mostly rebuilt in the 14th & 15th Centuries. The tower dates from the 14th Century.
Edgar Wallace (1875 – 1932) the novelist, playwright and journalist is buried in the churchyard at Fern, a hamlet of Little Marlow and just north east of the village. He died in Los Angeles on 10th February 1932 whilst working on the film King Kong. Thousands of people plus the world press lined the streets of the little village for his funeral. You can visit the official website of Edgar Wallace for more information.
In September 1998 the world’s attention once again focused on Little Marlow and the Church of St John the Baptist. This time it was for the wedding of the Spice Girls group member Melanie Brown (aka Mel B) and dancer Jimmy Gulzar. Many celebrities attended the wedding at the church and the reception next door at her then home the “Manor House”. Although many turned out to get a glimpse of the happy couple and guests, they saw very little, for the whole occasion was conducted under a shroud of privacy as OK Magazine had paid for exclusive rights to the publicity.
The village has many other interesting buildings and things to see, including the remains of a 14th Century Benedictine Nunnery of the Virgin Mary. There are two inviting old English country pubs, the 16th century Queen's Head, in Pound Lane and the 17th Century King’s Head at the north end of Church Road. The Queens Head was used in the TV series Inspector Morse, has the rebuilt “village pound” opposite it and calls itself “Marlow’s Little Secret”. The Kings Head is 16th Century and holds its own dark little secret as you can read below.
In October 1920 the body of Kate Bailey, age 22, was discovered in Barn Cottage, in Little Marlow village. The famous Home Office pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury was called into the investigation and concluded the cause of death was cyanide poisoning – the inquest was conducted in the Kings Head. Police soon arrested a suspect, George Arthur Bailey, the woman’s husband, well-known in the district as the whistling policeman. Bailey’s trial dominated the local and national press during the following months, and was of legal significance in that it was the first occasion on which a woman served on a jury at a murder trial. Despite a history of mental illness Bailey was found guilty of murder and was hung at Oxford jail in March 1921, Little Marlow village once again relapsed into uneventful tranquility and it was to be over 10 years before the press were once again out in force in this rural back-water.
Another famous resident of the village was Ivor Novello, the Welsh composer, singer and song-writer who lived at Walnut Tree Cottage.
For lots more information and to find out what is presently going on in the village, visit the Little Marlow Parish Council website.
After passing the Kings Head Pub, cross straight over the busy A4155 (with care) to finish next to Emmett’s Farm Shop at Wilton Farm.
If time permits, why not divert slightly off course to Marlow (see map for a scenic and short route). Marlow is a pleasant Thameside, Georgian town with a white suspension bridge, built by Tierney Clarke between 1831 and 1836. There is much more to see including, Shelley’s house in West Street, where his wife Mary Shelley, created Frankenstein and where he wrote "The Revolt of Islam".
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